Chef John Ledbetter

by Michele Pesula Kuegler | July 18th, 2012 | Chef Interviews

Although I haven’t lived there since my early elementary school years, I used to live in the Bay Area of California.  I have several aunts and uncles that still live there, so I still feel a tie to the area, an affinity for it.  When I was offered the opportunity to speak with Chef Ledbetter of Bocanova, I was pleased to be able to do so.  Not only would I be able to learn more about this restaurants and its menu, but it would be a little bit like speaking with someone from home.

Located in Jack London Square in Oakland, it’s a thirty-five minute drive from my childhood home.  Bocanova is owned by Rick Hackett, a chef trained in classic French cooking.  However, this restaurant serves Pan-American food.  How is that possible?  Chef Hackett was inspired by the staff meals that his Peruvian sous-chef and other Mexican kitchen staff were making.  Realizing that these meals were as good as the food that they were serving their customers, an idea was hatched, and the beginning of a restaurant menu was born.

Chef Ledbetter joined the Bocanova team as Executive Chef a year and a half ago, and since that time has been a key member of the kitchen team.

TT:  You have a seasonally rotating menu; do you change all menu items or a selected amount?

CL:  We have a big handful of items that never change.  We change about a dozen items at a time.  For example, yesterday we changed six or seven items between our lunch, dinner, and brunch menus.

TT:  What are some of your current changes?

CL:  Right now corn is in season, so we have four corn dishes.

TT:  What is your favorite item in the current seasonal options?

CL:  My favorite is the Brentwood Corn Succotash.  It is made with padrons, green beans, and toybox tomatoes and served hot.  As our summer temperatures stay cooler, hot dishes are well received.

TT:  You mentioned that some items would cause an uproar, if removed.  Which item is the most popular?

CL:  The Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs, served with chipotle aioli, are a do not remove item.  We cook a couple cases of eggs daily in order to make enough deviled eggs for our patrons.

TT:  Having a menu that changes with the seasons, I would guess that you source some ingredients locally.

CL:  We actually have a farmer’s market right in front of our restaurant on Sundays.  I am able to place an order for the ingredients that I want and pick it up there.

TT:  What makes Bocanova unique?

CL:  We do something different.  Everybody tries to summarize us as a tapas bar, but tapas is Spanish.  We serve food that is from South America, Latin America.  We cook what we want and what our customers want.  We don’t care if things are spicy; that’s part of who we are.  You don’t see many restaurants in this style.  We do American food with a South American feel.  We have fun with it.

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